Paul de Barry’s Eensaemheydt van Philagia (1646): A Jesuit Manual for Contemplation for Women

By Patricia Stoop

In 1638 the French Jesuit Paul de Barry (1587–1661) published his third book, entitled La Solitude de Philagie ou l’adresse pour s’occuper avec profit aux Exercices spirituels une fois tous les ans durant huict ou dix jour.[1] It was printed in Lyon in the printing house of Claude I Rigaud (1583–1628), which at that time was operated by his widow and his son-in-law Philippe Borde (d. 1669). De Barry, who was rector of the Jesuit colleges of Aix and Nîmes and later provincial of Lyon, was an esteemed preacher, but first and foremost a prolific author. Carlos Sommervogel, who composed the Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, attributes no fewer than twenty-five works to him. La Solitude de Philagie, which was first printed in 1638, must have been quite popular as it was reprinted no fewer than fourteen times until 1692 and new editions appeared half-way through the nineteenth century (in 1854 and 1859).[2]

Eight years after its publication, the text was translated into Dutch by Guilliam van Aelst, who, as is mentioned on the title page, was “gheboortigh van Antwerpen” (“born in Antwerp”). Van Aelst, who passed away before 1646, was an active translator with a strong connection to the Jesuits.[3] Before he translated De Barry’s La Solitude de Philagie into De eensaemheydt van Philagia, Dienende tot Gheestelijcke Oeffeninghe in eensaemheydt. Van acht ofte thien gheduerighe daghen ’s Iaers, Van Aelst published De Thien eerste Boecken Der Nederlandtsche Oorloge in 1645, which was a translation of De bello Belgico decades duae, 1555–1590 (Antwerp, 1635) by the Roman Jesuit Faminio Strada (1572–1649). In 1651 he translated the Traité de l’Amour de Dieu (De Liefde Godts), which was colloquially known as Theotimus (Lyon, 1616), by St Francis de Sales (1567–1622), who was educated by the Jesuits, later bishop of Geneva and a renowned mystic and reformer, as well as an inspiration for many members of the Society of Jesus, including De Barry.

Figure 1: Title page of the first edition of Paul de Barry, De eensaemheydt van Philagia (Antwerpen: Jacob van Ghelen, 1646). Copy owned by Marijken de Raedt, an Alexian sister in Aalst. University of Antwerp, Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 13. Reproduced with permission.

Like its French counterpart, De eensaemheydt van Philagia was quite successful. After the first edition was published in 1646 by Jacob van Ghelen, whose printing house was located at the Eiermarkt in Antwerp, three more editions (in four versions) were printed.[4] The second edition (“Den II Druck”) was printed again by Van Ghelen in 1649. In 1655 his colleague Arnout I van Brakel (1606–75) reissued this print, in identical form—even Van Ghelen’s 1649 colophon is present—but with a modified title page. That is to say, the printer’s name was altered and the date of publication was changed to 1655. In 1664, Van Brakel, whose shop was located at the other end of the Antwerp cathedral at the Wijngaardbrug, produced the third edition in a new lay-out. In 1711, the text was reprinted once more by Joannes Paulus Robyns, again in Antwerp.

Solitude as the Road to Holiness and Spiritual Perfection

With his Solitude de Philagie De Barry wanted to provide a tool for people who strive to make progress towards spiritual perfection and serve God, both within monasteries and in the world. In order to help these lovers of holiness—hence the word Philagia, a combination of φίλη (philè) and ἅγία (hagia) in, in the title—go through the three stages of the contemplative process (the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways), the Jesuit wrote spiritual exercises that should be done in eight or ten days. During this period the readers should act as if they were living in a large desert and personify solitude to talk to only with God and their own soul. In this way, they can overcome their evil inclinations and arrive at great purity of conscience and peace of mind.

After a short introduction containing the intentions of the author, a long list of general notes to be read in preparation for the eight- or ten-day exercises follows. Before starting, one must, for example, complete or suspend all one’s work, provide oneself with appropriate literature (apart from Thomas a Kempis’s Imitatio Christi, De Barry recommends works by fellow Jesuits), and contemplate on past sins in preparation for confession. Once these eight pages of instructions are mastered, the devotee can start the eight or ten days of meditations, the maintaining (‘onderhoudinghe’) of inner attitudes and devotional acts (e.g. the intimacy of the heart, the preparation for the yearly confession and the examination of conscience in preparation), and investigations (of the virtues for example).

On the first day, one should contemplate the reason why one is created. The second day is dedicated to repentance for the sins of the previous life. On the third day, faint-heartedness and sluggishness in the service of God take center stage. Next, one must consider what happens to one at the end of life. On day five to seven one should imitate Christ in the three stages of his life: in his youth, during his apostolate, and during his passion and death. The last three days of the process revolve around love owed to God, the unity with God, and the love for the Holy Sacrament. Once that whole process has been completed and readers have worked their way through nearly seven hundred pages of text, they are prepared for the New Year.

The Dedication by Catharina van Aelst

De Barry dedicated his original French La Solitude de Philagie “au glorieux S. Joseph, le plus aimable et le plus ayme de tous les Saincts, apres Jesus, & Marie’ (“to the glorious St Joseph, the most lovable and most loving of all the Saints, after Jesus and Mary”). The German translation by Martinus Sibenius also dedicated the text to Joseph, “der Mutter GOTtes allerwürdigstem Bräutigam, und allerweisesten Regierer des Worts, das Fleisch worden ist” (“the Mother of GOD’s most worthy Bridegroom, and most wise Ruler of the Word that became flesh”). With a general dedication like this, the book was aimed at all readers, men and women alike. In the Dutch version, however, the original dedication was replaced by a text by Catharina van Aelst, the daughter of the translator. Her father had passed away at the time that she wrote the dedication, “op den Voor-avont van’t Jaer 1646” (“on the Eve of the Year 1646”; fol. a6v):

Desen soo kostelijcken Lust-hof, van mijnen goeden Vader saeligher tot alghemeyn gherief van ons Nederlandt uyt de Fransche sprake overgeset, ende met meer andere sijne Boecken aen my als erfenisse ter handt ghekomen zijnde, alsoo hy aen een eighelijck van ons even nutbaer ende dienelijck is. (fol. A5v)[5]

(This so precious Garden of Delight has been translated from French by my good late Father for the general benefit of our Netherlands, and has come to me as an inheritance, together with more of his other Books, so that it is as useful as it is serviceable to all of us).

In her signature to the dedication, Catharina added the letters G.D. to her name. They can also be found after her initials on the title page of the 1646 edition: “[De eensaemheydt van Philagia] Wordt aen alle Gheestelijcke Dochters voor een Gheluck-saeligh Nieuw Jaer ghegunt Door C.V.A.G.D.” (“[The eensaemheydt of Philagia] is presented in kindness to all Spiritual Daughters for a Happy New Year by C.V.A.G.D.”). The abbreviation means that Catharina identified herself as a “Geestelijke Dochter” (“Spiritual Daughter”) or filia devota. She was one of the many single, Catholic women in the early modern Low Countries—often called “kloppen” or “kwezels”—who chose a chaste life dedicated to God outside monasteries and in secular contexts, often under the spiritual guidance of and in obedience to secular priests or, as in this case, Jesuits.

Catharina dedicated her father’s translation of De Eensaemheydt of Philagia to “alle gheesteliicke dochters. Beminde mede-Susters” (“all spiritual daughters, Beloved fellow Sisters”; fol. a2r). She encourages them to follow the example of Solomon in the Song of Songs 4. 16, who took his bride to the garden of delight. This can be done, she states referring to the eensaemheydt of De Barry’s title, by seeking the pleasure garden of solitude. It is there “dat onsen aldersoetsten Bruydegom Jesus noch alle daghen onse Zielen trouwt” (“that our most sweet Groom Jesus marries our Souls every day”; fol. A2v), in order to pull them “uyt de slavernije des duyvels, te weten, uyt het wereldts leven” (“out of the slavery of the devil, namely, of worldly life”). Subsequently, she explains that the “aldermeest gheachten Lust-hof van onsen Hemelschen Bruydegom, inden welcken hy sijnen aldermeesten lust heeft” (“most esteemed Pleasure-ground of our Heavenly Bridegroom in which he takes the most pleasure”; fol. a3v) is the bonus hortus virginitatis (delightful garden of virginity). In order to see to what exalted holiness and spiritual perfection of the soul solitude could lead, Catharina encourages people to look especially at

de heylighe en Lofweerdighe Societeyt Jesu, de welcke inden selven Lust-hof uyt Godt ontfanghen ende voort-gebraght, met het selve sogh onderhouden ende op-ghevoedt zijnde, tot alsulcke overvloedighe Heyligheydt ende volmaecktheydt ghekomen is, dat sy de heele wijde wereldt, ende onder andere oock ons haere Gheestelijcke Kinderen soo rijckelijck, als wy tot ons groot voordeel ende gheluck daghelijcks bevinden, vande selve is mededeelende. (fol. A5r–v)

(the holy and Praiseworthy Society of Jesus, which, received and brought forth from God in the same Garden of Delight, being nurtured and educated with the same milk, has come to such abundant Holiness and perfection, that it lets the whole wide world and also, among others, us its Spiritual Children, share the same so richly, as we experience to our great benefit and happiness every day).

Catharina’s dedication, which encourages the mystical wedding and the virginal matrimony of the soul with Christ, is written as a New Year’s wish. The fact that it is composed by a spiritual daughter of the Jesuit order and addressed to other spiritual daughters shifts the intended audience of De Barry’s devotional treatise. Rather than at a general audience, the text is now aimed at female addressees, and more specifically, female religious addressees. But which readers did the text actually reach?

For the Love of Holiness: The Readers of De eensaemheydt van Philagia

Not all the extant copies I have seen contain ownership inscriptions.[6] A good number of the ones that do, however, indeed belonged to women. In many cases the ownership inscriptions point out that the books were owned by individuals, albeit all members of religious communities. One copy of the 1646 edition, for example, was owned by Marijken de Raedt, who was a zwartzuster (Alexian sister) in the community in Aalst in East Flanders, which had been founded there in 1475 in order to take care of the sick (especially the plague victims) and continued to exist until 2020, when the remaining sisters moved to a neighbouring residential care center (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 13; see Figure 1). A second copy (Kontich: Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde, no shelfmark) made its way to Maria Theresia Peeters, who was a “beggijntien op het vermaert beggijn hof tot Lier” (“beguine in the renowned beguinage of Lier”), located some twenty kilometers southeast of Antwerp. When Marijken and Maria Theresia lived is not clear.

When Sister Josephine Vanherberghen, who was a hospital sister in the Sint-Janshospitaal in the Brabantine city of Tienen (near Louvain), lived is not clear either. She owned a copy of the 1649 edition and left the mark of her ownership on the flyleaf of her book (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 14 bis): “Gasthuis Thienen Suster Josephine Vanherberghen.” Another copy of the same, second edition, however, was owned in the nineteenth century by a grey sister (grauwzuster), likely of the Third Order of St Francis. On the flyleaf at the front she wrote that she owned the book during the time of Sister Ida: “Van zuster MariAnna Spillebijkx grouw zuster geproffest den 7 october 1834 als zuster Ida overste was ende die is gestorven den 13 Mert 1839” (“Of Sister MariAnna Spillebijkx grey sister professed on 7 Oct 1834 as sister Ida was superior, who died on 13 March 1839”; Museum Plantin-Moretus, A 3446). Unfortunately, the book does not mention in which community the women lived. Interestingly, at another (later?) point in time the book was owned by a man. In the lower margin of the title page, a certain Frederic Verachter wrote his name.

A copy of the 1655 edition (i.e. the second edition as it was published by Arnout I van Brakel) also switched hands, but this time from woman to woman (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 15). Judging from the location of the ownership inscription on the flyleaf as well as the handwriting, which is considerably older than the other signature, the book was initially owned by Maria Barbara Melijn and later transferred to Maria Bal who owned it in 1796. Both women indicate that they kept the book with the permission of their superior (“met orlof van haer oversten”). This indicates of course that these women were also members of a religious community. Possibly they lived in the female Dominican convent of Antwerp. The State Archives in that city own a donation deed that states that after the death of Peter Melijn (a building contractor who supervised fortification works in and around Antwerp between 1660 and 1680) six hundred gulden should be transferred to the Dominican convent where his daughter Maria Barbara Melijn was professed in 1670.[7]

Figure 2: Title page of Paul de Barry, De eensaemheydt van Philagia, in the second edition issued by Arnout I van Brakel (Antwerpen, 1655). Copy owned by Maria Barbara Melijn and Maria Bal. University of Antwerp, Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 15. Reproduced with permission.

A second copy of the same 1655 edition also contains two ownership inscriptions (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, F 88500, flyleaf at the front). Initially, the book was owned by someone who noted down two little verses: “Het is een vremdt gemoedt / Dat noch mint, noch minnen doet” (“It is a strange disposition / That neither loves nor enables to love”) and “En houdt voor geenen vriendt / Die verandert als den windt” (“And regard as no friend / Who alters like the wind”). In between likely the same person added an emblem with the initials A.M.V. and the date 1730. Subsequently Sister Coleta Bouckaert added her name under the verse lines. Again, she is difficult to identify. A beguine with this name passed away in the Groot Begijnhof in Ghent on 27 or 28 February 1832 at the age of sixty-two.[8] However, around the same date a Sister Coleta Bouckaert was prioress of the convent of St Trudo in Odegem near Bruges (canonesses regular of the order of St Augustine).[9] This makes it impossible at this stage to establish whether the book was located in Ghent or in Bruges in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The last edition that was published by Van Brakel in 1664 also found its way into women’s hands. The copy that is currently kept in the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience in Antwerp (shelfmark F 126879) belonged, according to a note on the front flyleaf, to Sister Francoise Schrijnmaeckers in 1704. Whether she owned it earlier or later than Sister Tresa Boon, who left her ownership inscription at the back of the title page, is impossible to say. In any case Tresa was very concerned about her soul’s post-mortem well-being. She explicitly asked the readers of her inscription to pray for her after her death: “Tot behoef van suster Tresa Boon. Bidt voor mijn siel naer mijn doot op dat ick sondaers mach bevrijdt woorden van de eeuieghe doot” (“For the sake of Sister Tresa Boon. Pray for my soul after my death that I, sinner, may be freed from the eternal death”).

All the aforementioned copies of the Eensaemheydt of Philagia were owned by individual women who were members of religious communities. Two other books also circulated in women’s convents but were destined for common use. The 1655 edition that is nowadays at the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp (A 2221) explicitly mentions on the front flyleaf that the book is meant “Voor het gemeyn van Blyenberch” (“for common use of Bleyenberg”), a community of Victorines in Mechelen. The Norbertine sisters in Antwerp kept their copy (of the first edition of 1646) according to a note on the title page in their church: “Ecclesia Norbertinarum Antw[erpiensis]” (Museum Plantin-Moretus, A 3443). The third book (1649 edition) did not belong to a female community, but rather to the professed house of the Jesuits in Antwerp: “Dom[us] Prof[essa] Soc[ietatis] Jesu Antverpiae” (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 14, 1e ex).

The last three books with ownership inscriptions I have found thus far probably belonged to lay people. On the flyleaf at the front of a copy held by the Museum Plantin-Moretus (A 3437), we read that “Dezen boek hoert toe aan Jozephina Lammens” (“This book belongs to Jozephina Lammens”). As Jozephina did not add “Sr” to indicate a religious profession to her name, we may assume that she was a lay woman or perhaps a spiritual daughter like Catharina van Aelst. The book with shelfmark BIB.ACC.012562 in the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Ghent (a copy of the 1649 edition) seems to have belonged to a couple: a note on the cover page expresses the hope that “Jehan en Marie wordt den besten trost” (“to Jehan and Marie the best consolation will come”), presumably in the hereafter. The 1664 version that is now in the Universiteitsbibliotheek at Ghent (BIB.158T008) has an ownership inscription on the front flyleaf that shows it belonged to a man: “Hic liber pertenet ad me Carolum Tileman anno 1762” (“This book belongs to me, Carolus Tileman, anno 1762”). He can be tentatively identified as the student who was mentioned in the Album studiosorum of the University of Leiden in 1756 and was born in The Hague in 1736.[10] If this identification is correct, this specimen is an outlier in many respects. It is not only the sole book thus far that has only been owned by a man and a student, but it is also the only copy that made its way to the Protestant north of the Low Countries.

Although De Barry does not seem to have had a distinct readership in mind, the dedication that Catherine added to her father’s Dutch translation clearly steered the reception of De eensaemheydt of Philagia. The majority of the books that have been studied thus far found their way to women who lived their lives as the Brides of Christ Catharina envisaged. Interestingly, however, most of the women who owned a copy lived such a life within (enclosed) convents of various orders, and not as the filiae devotae Catharina and the publisher seem to have had in mind when they addressed the book to “alle Gheestelijcke Dochters” (“All Spiritual Daughters”). Whether or not it was intended to, the book evidently reached a wide female audience and thereby played an important role in spreading Jesuit spirituality and mysticism to women’s religious communities in the Southern Low Countries.

Further reading

Album studiosorum academiae Lugduno Batavae xdlxxv–mdccclxxv: accedunt nomina curatorum et professorum per eadem secula. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1875.

“Barry, Paul de.” In Carlos Sommervogel and others, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, 12 vols. Brussels: Schepens, 1890–1932. I (1890), cols 945–57.

“Barry, Paul de.” In Dictionnaire de spiritualité, ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire, ed. by Marcel Viller and others, 16 vols. Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne et ses fils, 1937–94. I (1937), cols 1252–55.

De Vlieger-De Wilde, Koen, ed. Adresboek van zeventiende-eeuwse drukkers, uitgevers en boekverkopers in Vlaanderen / Directory of Seventeenth-Century Printers, Publishers and Booksellers in Flanders. Antwerp: Vereniging van Antwerpse Bibliofielen, 2004.

De Vroede, Maurits. “Kwezels” en “Zusters”: De geestelijke dochters in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden, 17de en 18de eeuw. Brussels: Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, 1994.

Monteiro, Marit Edin. Geestelijke maagden: Leven tussen klooster en wereld in Noord-Nederland gedurende de zeventiende eeuw. Hilversum: Verloren, 1996.

Olthoff, Frans. De boekdrukkers, boekverkoopers en uitgevers in Antwerpen sedert de uitvinding der boekdrukkunst tot op onze dagen. Antwerp: J.-B. Buschmann, 1891.

“Sibenius, Martin.” In Carlos Sommervogel and others, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, 12 vols. Brussels: Schepens, 1890–1932. VII (1896), cols 1181–84.

Stracke, D.A. “Guilliam van Aelst en Guillaume van Aelst S.J.” De Gulden Passer 6 (1928), 239–49

Van Honacker, K. Het archief van de families de Lannoy, Melijn, de Heuvel en Meyers met inbegrip van het archief van de heren van Zwijndrecht. Antwerp: Het Rijksarchief in België, 2002. Identification number BE–A0511/Y1/010)

Verheggen, Evelyne M.F. Beelden voor passie en hartstocht: Bid- en devotieprenten in de Noordelijke Nederlanden, 17de en 18de eeuw. Zutphen: Walburg, 2006.

[1] This blog was inspired by the module ‘Vrouwen en literatuur in de vroegmoderne tijd’ of the undergraduate course Neerlandistiek in de praktijk (University of Antwerp, academic year 2021–22). My gratitude goes to my students Robin Van Gestel and Mie Verschooten for their enthusiastic exploration of the copy of De Barry’s De eensaemheydt van Philagia in the Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde in Kontich.

[2] I have counted the editions mentioned in the Universal Short Title Catalogue and Sommervogel’s list here.

[3] It is not very clear who Guilliam van Aelst was, nor how many translations can be attributed to him. For an extensive discussion on both questions, see D.A. Stracke, “Guilliam van Aelst en Guillaume van Aelst S.J.,” in De Gulden Passer 6 (1928), 239–49.

[4] In the same year Paul De Barry’s text was also translated into German by Martinus Sibenius SJ (1604–68): Einöde Philagiae, Das ist Weiß unnd Manier, die Geistliche Exercitia einmal im Jahr, acht oder zehen Tag lang nützlich zu verrichten (Köln: Michael Dehmen [the Elder], 1646). This German translation was also reprinted eight times before 1738.

[5] The dedication of Van Aelst’s translation of De Sales’ De Liefde Godts (1651) is also written by Catharina van Aelst. This time the book is dedicated to Joanna van Lathem, abbess of the Cistercian abbey of Roosendael near Mechelen between 1639 and 1662, with whom she had a family connection. In the dedication, Catharina mentions “andere boecken” (“other books”) written by her “Vader saliger” (“late father”), as well as a female sibling and cousins, who seem to be nuns in the abbey of Roosendael.

[6] For this blog I consulted the Heritage Collections in Antwerp (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, Museum Plantin-Moretus, and Ruusbroecgenootschap), the Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde in Kontich, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Brussels, and the digital copies that are available on Google Books.

[7] “Schenkingsakte ten belope van 600 fl., na het overlijden van Peter Melijn te overhandigen aan het klooster van de dominicanessen, waar zijn dochter Maria Barbara Melijn was geprofest. 1670.” See K. Van Honacker, Het archief van de families de Lannoy, Melijn, de Heuvel en Meyers met inbegrip van het archief van de heren van Zwijndrecht (Antwerpen: Het Rijksarchief in België, 2002; identification number: BE–A0511/Y1/010).

[8] Announcement of the deceased by the civil registry in Ghent in Den vaderlander, 26, Thursday 1 March 1832, p. 4.

[9] U. Berlière and others, eds, Monasticon Belge, 8 vols(Maredsous: Abbaye de Maredsous, 1890–1993), vii (1977–89): Province de Flandre Orientale, 1028 and 1061–62.

[10] Album studiosorum academiae Lugduno Batavae xdlxxv–mdccclxxv: accedunt nomina curatorum et professorum per eadem secula (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1875), col. 1055.

George Herbert, The Temple (1633)

This copy of a second edition of George Herbert’s The Temple has a fascinating provenance, beyond what is usually our upper date limit of 1800, so I felt it was worth a post even though this is not strictly speaking an instance of early modern female book ownership.

Herbert’s book is signed on the title page by Rufus Greene, who helpfully added the date and place of acquisition, London, July 23, 1728. Greene (1707-1777) was a Boston silversmith whose works can be found today in museums, such as the Fitchburg Art Museum.

Image of a tankard in the Fitchburg Art Museum on Wikimedia.

1728, the date in the inscription, is both the year of his marriage and the year he started his business. A portrait of Greene’s wife, Katherine Stanbridge, by John Singleton Copley sold at auction in 2017 and is currently in the Young Museum. Their daughter, Katherine Greene Amory (1731-1777), is today well known for the journal she kept during the American Revolution. She and her husband, John Amory, were loyalists who departed for England, leaving their children in America.

Katherine’s son John Amory Jr married Catherine Willard and their daughter, Catherine Willard Amory (1794-1831) wrote her own signature in Herbert’s book.

Her inscription shows her desire to give us both her family history and the history of the book’s ownership: “Catherine W. Amory formerly belonging to her Great Grandfather Rufus Greene.”

One of her portraits, by Alvan Clarke, was painted in the year of her death and is currently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Portrait at the Museum of Fine Arts; reproduced from Wikimedia.

While we do not know when Catherine W. Amory made the inscription, it skips over the generations between herself and her great-grandfather, creating a direct link between nineteenth- and eighteenth-century ownership of Herbert’s famous collection of poems and between the two of them as readers.

Source: Book offered for sale by Manhattan Rare Books, July 2021. Images reproduced with permission.

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1615)

In September 2020, we featured a guest post from Alison Fraser on a second edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene that showcased the remarkable early bookplate of early eighteenth-century reader Elizabeth Percival. As Fraser notes, Spenser wrote the work for Queen Elizabeth I. However, the romance had a wider appeal to other courtly women—and those who were not courtly at all. A 1615 edition now at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SR/OS 95.2) contains veritable layers of women’s ownership inscriptions: Eustasia Trelawny, Mary Wentworth, Elizabeth Kelly, Catherine Powny, and the forenames Jane and Kate. A 1609 edition at the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies (PR2358 .A1 1609) is signed by Frances Twysden Villieres, Countess of Jersey (1753–1821) and her youngest daughter Harriet Bagot Villiers (1788–1870), and also contains the earlier inscription of a reader named Elizabeth. The Folger Shakespeare Library holds a 1596 copy of the book (STC 23082 copy 1) that is signed by an Ann Stewart on one of the front endpapers. In 2012, Rachel Stevenson’s honors thesis centered on a 1679 copy of Spenser’s Works owned by Letitia Thomson. Writes Stevenson: “Thomson is especially remarkable in her attention to detail and cross-referencing, interacting with [Thomas] Warton’s footnotes, his text, and the text of The Faerie Queene.”

What is notable about these manifold signatures is that they span the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, speaking to the work’s continued popularity with a female readership. The owner of the featured book today appears to fall in the eighteenth century or the early nineteenth century based on her handwriting. An effaced inscription on the upper edge of A2r of her 1615 copy of The Faerie Queene reads: “Catherine C[…?] her Book and the gift of h[…?] […?] E[…?]. Beneath is another annotation in a minute hand, unfortunately too faded and crossed out to read.

There is enough here to say that Catherine received the book as a gift, but because her surname is too illegible to transcribe, the relationship between the giver and her cannot be ascertained. The word beginning with H may read “her,” which would indicate that she received the book from a friend or relative.

Source: Book sold by Michael Laird Rare Books LLC in February 2021. Now in the Rare Books collection at California State University Long Beach. Images used with permission.

John Spottiswoode, The History of the Church of Scotland (1655)

John Spottiswoode’s The History of the Church of Scotland, subtitled Beginning the Year of Our Lord 203, and Continued to the End of the Reign of King James the VI, was first published in 1655 and now survives in numerous copies. Spottiswoode was an archbishop in Scotland, a theologian, and an historian. He originally wrote the history at the request of James VI and I, though it was not published until sixteen years after Spottiswoode’s death. In 1633, he crowned Charles I in Edinburgh, but his good standing with the monarch was not to last:

He was appointed Chancellor of Scotland by King Charles I (1635), but Spottiswoode found himself caught between a monarch intent on introducing an unpopular prayer book, which resulted in riots in St. Giles Kirk in Edinburgh, and the people. Thus in 1638, while the people signed the National Covenant, the King dismissed Spottiswoode from the Chancellorship for having failed to enforce the Episcopacy, yet the General Assembly in Glasgow reintroduced Presbyterianism, deposing him as Archbishop and excommunicated him. (Gazetteer for Scotland)

A copy of the first edition featuring two early women’s ownership inscriptions was offered for sale by Aardvark Books, ABAA in February 2021.

The eyecatchingly distinctive name of Easter Bird appears on a rear flyleaf, followed by the name of Leonard Stanley in a similar hand and the year 1802. There are several eighteenth-century documents featuring individuals with this name, so in spite of its unusualness–or at the very least, its uncommon spelling (Easter may be a version of Ester or Esther)–this particular Easter Bird has not been identified. The pound sign and numerals to the right of the names, which appear contemporary to the writing, at least seem to narrow Easter to the United Kingdom.

Beneath pen trials is another woman’s inscription, Elizabeth Redman. Like Easter’s inscription, it appears to date from the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century. The unread lines above Easter’s inscription appear to be in an earlier hand.

Though the book has since sold, the bookseller’s original description mentions several four-leaf clovers laid into the book. These enclosures, along with the markings described above, shows that the book was the site of much activity, not all of it related to reading! The book’s marbled calf binding appears to date from around the time of the women’s signatures.

Source: Book offered for sale by Aardvark Books 2/5/2021; since sold. Images used with permission.

Further Reading
“Archbishop John Spottiswoode: 1565-1639″ Gazetteer for Scotland.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Werter (1780)

This two-volume second edition of the famous epistolary novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was published in translation in London and contains particularly interesting provenance. As a small inscription on the title page shows, the book was owned by Henrietta Masterman (1766–1813).

Henrietta Masterman, the daughter of Henry Masterman, lost her father at age five and became an heiress of Settrington. In 1795, she married Sir Mark Sykes (1771–1823), a baronet, MP for York, and book collector, whose magnificent collection was auctioned in 1824, as shown in this catalogue.

Portrait of Sir Mark Sykes, Lady Henrietta Masterman Sykes, and Sir Tatton Sykes (1808) by Sir Thomas Lawrence. York Museums Trust.

We don’t know when Masterman acquired Goethe’s book or to what extent its style and subject matter influenced her writing, but given her use of her maiden name in the inscription, we can speculate that she had it in her possession before 1795.

Henrietta was herself an author. She wrote a collection of stories, a book of poems, and two Gothic novels, the most successful of which was Margiana, or Widdrington Tower (1808), published anonymously and set in the fifteenth century. Its dark narrative of murder, love, and deceit was much enjoyed by Jane Austen, who wrote in a 1809 letter:

“We are now in Margiana, & like it very well indeed. – We are just going to set off for Northumberland to be shut up in Widdrington Tower, where there must be two or three sets of Victims already immured under a very fine Villain.”

A bookplate shows the book was later owned by Barbara Hylton-Madge, the mother of poet Charles Madge.

Source: book offered for sale in September 2020 by Simon Beattie, described in detail in his Goethe catalog. Images reproduced with permission.

George Savile, The Lady’s New Year’s Gift, or Advice to a Daughter (multiple copies)

The 1688 advice book The Lady’s New Year’s Gift by George Savile, Marquess of Halifax (1633-1695) was popular, going through many editions over the years. It is a genre that would lead one to expect female ownership, containing advice on choosing a husband and what to do if you have married a drunkard, on how to arrange one’s domestic affairs, on raising children, and so on. A delightful copy of the eighth edition (1707) was offered for sale earlier this year. The book is marked on the title page by “Eliz[abeth] Noel.” It was evidently passed on to a female family member: a later page is inscribed by Hannah Noel, who also seems to have started writing her name on a second page. We cannot know which of the two owned the book first.

Although the name Noel is present in the English peerage and there are some women of this family named Elizabeth within this time period, I have not been able to find a Hannah among them, so identification of these signatures remains in question for now.

Savile, who was an influential Protestant politician in the turbulent years of the Exclusion Crisis and the Revolution of 1688, wrote the work for his daughter Elizabeth (c. 1677-1708), the only child from his second marriage, when she was around eleven years old. She would go on to marry Philip Stanhope, the third Earl of Chesterfield, becoming the Countess of Chesterfield. Her son Philip, the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield, became an important politician.

A search of copies on Google Books shows that The Lady’s New Year’s Gift had lasting appeal among women, as seen for instance in a copy of the fifth edition (1696), from the British Museum, which has evidence of multiple female owners. Ann Burleigh signed the book twice in 1772, and Charlotte Jenkins signed it in 1830, placing her name right underneath Burleigh’s as if she wanted to show a sequence of female ownership.

The copy also contains doodles, possibly by a young woman reader, made at the top of a serious section on religion. Was this particular reader bored by the content? On the right page, another reader seems to have practiced writing the word “religion” itself.

In addition, the final page of this copy contains further evidence of female ownership, with inscriptions by a Mary and an Elizabeth.

Other female signatures in copies on Google Books are undated. A first edition from the British Library is signed by someone named Jenny (her last name is difficult to read), showing clear signs of reading in marginal marks made to highlight passages throughout.

A 1716 edition of the book, also held by the British Library, was owned, as we can just about make out, by a woman named Anne Baldy.

Intriguing writing appears on an additional page but is difficult to read, although it looks as if the name Susan is at the top. Further research in the British Library may help decipher these inscriptions.

Some copies on Google Books show that the book was not just read by women. A copy of a fifteenth edition (1765), from the National Library of Naples, has been repeatedly signed by someone named Harry Newman.

A 1752 bilingual edition from the British Library, translated by Johann Heinrich Samuel Formey and dedicated to Princess Sophie-Dorothea of Prussia, was at some point given to a woman, as the inscription reads “For Miss Guy Dickens,” but it was also owned by Robert A. F[?], who dated his signature July 6, 1861.

The nineteenth-century male owner has written dates in the margins and added comments and quotations from a variety of sources, including the bible and Hamlet, showing that this book, which was so clearly written with a female reader in mind, was closely read and, it seems, enjoyed by a wider audience.

Source: variety of editions on Google Books, and a 1707 copy (now sold) was offered for sale on eBay by Wisdompedlars, 2/18/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

Simon Patrick, Advice to a Friend (1673)

There have been already a number of posts relating to examples of dual book ownership, or at least the discovery of multiple inscriptions that contain one female reader. Among them are spousal inscriptions such as Thomas and Isabella Hervey, as well as a discussion alluding to a possible mother or sibling ownership (see the post on Ann and Elizabeth Webb here). This blog looks at books serving as important family heirlooms that exchanged multiple hands but with a clear female role.

Simon Patrick’s devotional work, Advice to a Friend, which was published in 1673, bears the names of two family members: ‘Hellena Rawdon’ and ‘ERawdon’. It forms part of the enormous Conway book collection housed at Armagh Robinson Library. The Conways were a well connected family in seventeenth-century Ireland with keen literary interests. In the early 1640s, for example, Edward 2nd Viscount Conway owned around 8,000 volumes at his residence in Lisburn, County Antrim. A year before his death in 1655, his daughter Dorothy (c. 1630-75) married Sir George Rawdon, 1st Baronet Rawdon, and between the two families they kept this impressive book tradition alive.

The book ownership timeline of Patrick’s Advice to a Friend is difficult to ascertain but it would appear to have been first in the possession of Edward Rawdon, the eldest son of Sir George and Dorothy. Little is known about him. He was born possibly in the late 1650s but didn’t survive to inherit the family estate when Sir George died in 1684. Yet his name on the book indicates a well educated and enthusiastic book owner with a strong commitment to Protestantism.

The same can be certainly said of Hellena (or Helen) Rawdon, née Graham (1663-1710). She was the wife of Arthur Rawdon (1662-95), the third but eldest surviving son of Sir George and Dorothy. She displayed a love for books and reading. According to Brenda Collins, “her upbringing was one of scholarship; she was the granddaughter of Archbishop John Bramhall [of Armagh] and she was well read and very intelligent.”[1] Indeed, two other works in the Armagh collection have her name inscribed: Fasti Danici (1633) by the Danish philosopher, Ole Worm, and a manuscript work by ancient writer Polybius concerning the rise of the Roman Republic, which was translated into English (Collins). Clearly, Helen’s reading interests were broad.

That passion for books was undoubtedly passed on to her children. Following her husband’s death in 1695, she maintained a “strong influence” on her young son, [Sir] John Rawdon, later third Baronet Rawdon. No less than twenty-three books in the Armagh Robinson Library with the Conway crest have Sir John’s inscription on the title page (Collins). While his name is absent on Patrick’s work we should not discount the possibility of his mother giving it to him for private reading. This strong family relationship with books, moreover, suggests that Helen’s possession of Patrick’s Advice to a Friend was a gift from her brother-in-law, Edward. And her youthful but prominent inscription indicates she valued it greatly. Crucially, it enables us to glean a little more about her fascinating character and personality.

Advice to a Friend was published when Patrick was rector of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. (He was subsequently appointed bishop of Chichester 1689, before translating to the see of Ely in 1691.) Offering a form of spiritual healing, Patrick provided both advice and consolation to his Christian readers in situations where they encountered personal loss or faced a religious crisis. His work contained sixteen chapters of advice in the guise of previous sermons and prayers that he delivered, some of which were directed at his future wife, Penelope Jephson, whom he married in 1675.

Indeed, Patrick had a particularly popular female audience. Helen was not the only female reader who consulted his work. The prolific English writer of children’s books in the late 18th century, Mary Ann Kilner, had it with her on her deathbed in 1831, and she in turn obtained Patrick’s Advice to a Friend from a “Mrs Worst” in 1813 as can be seen from the auction catalogue (click here). Moreover, Cornelia Wilde has documented the close friendship he enjoyed with Elizabeth Gauden, whose correspondence with him centered on theological issues and matters of devotional practice [2]. Thus, Helen Rawdon joins a long list of women who were inspired by Patrick’s work, displaying a strong connection with her faith as well as her love of books.

The beautiful eighteenth-century Armagh Robinson Library in Northern Ireland is home to an estimated 42,000 printed books, ranging from the early modern period to the present day. Thanks to the kind permission of the governors and guardians of the library, over the coming months we will be able to post no less than seven books with examples of female book inscriptions.

My thanks to the Very Revd Gregory Dunstan, keeper of Armagh Robinson Library, who kindly provided assistance relating to queries on the Rawdons.

Source: Image reproduced by kind permission of the Governors and Guardians of Armagh Robinson Library.

[1] Brenda Collins, “Family Networks and Social Connections in the Survival of a Seventeenth-Century Library Collection,” Library & Information History 33.2, 2017 pp 123-142.

[2] Cornelia Wilde, ‘Seraphic Companions: The Friendship between Elizabeth Gauden and Simon Patrick’, Early Modern Literary Studies, 22, 2014.

The Holy Bible (1628)

Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA, USA, STC 2283.5
Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA, USA, STC 2283.5. (I’ve shown the back first because it’s in slightly better shape than the front.)

You’ll probably see a lot of bibles as this blog grows, and at least three women signed their names to this one. The earliest signature belongs to Judith Martin, who must have received and inscribed her copy shortly after it was printed in 1628:


Judeth Martin her
booke, by the gift
of her Brother,
Jos. Andrewe.
Jan: 15th. 1628

Elizabeth Sherod seems to have acquired the book later.

It’s not immediately apparent who created the beautiful embroidered binding, but it is tempting to think it is Judith’s own work.


Note the gilt and gauffered edges, too.

The nineteenth-century signature is a bit trickier, although “Her Book” is very clear. Any guesses?

Houghton STC 2283.5 flyleaf


Source: The Holy Bible (1628). STC STC 2283.5, sig. A1r, endleaf, and binding. Houghton Library, Cambridge, MA, USA. Photographed by Erin A. McCarthy.